Last Sunday, the Missoulian published an editorial endorsing Jennifer Fielder for the Public Service Commission. Fielder is criticized for her affiliation with groups like the Coalition of Western Property Owners and the Bundy family. She’s an avid supporter of transferring federal land management to the states. Oh, and she helped spread those baseless rumors about Antifa bussing protesters into Missoula to make violent the recent Black Lives Matter protests.
So yeah, a lot of Missoulians got mad. A lot of Missoulians posted on social media. A lot of Missoulians said they would cancel their Missoulian subscriptions. Editor-in-Chief Gwen Florio, who had recused herself from endorsements due to her ongoing political reporting, resigned.
Within a day, the Missoulian’s editorial board retracted its endorsement and instead endorsed her opponent, Monica Tranel. The board’s explanation: “In short, we blew it.”
No matter how much journalists like to talk about separation of editorial, opinion and hard news sections of a paper (and we really do love to talk about it), it’s not always clear to readership how the process works. Sometimes, newspapers owe their readers an explanation.
The Missoulian’s editorial board is currently made up of two people: Publisher Jim Strauss and opinion editor Tyler Christensen. Those two people are the only people in the newsroom who write, edit and approve all editorials, and the senior of the two breaks a tie. And whether the rest of the staff agrees with the opinions of the editorial doesn’t really matter in the process.
But there’s the problem: It should matter. Because how are Missoulian reporters supposed to accurately report on Missoula if the citizens they need to talk to don’t trust them?
This year, more than ever, local journalism couldn’t be more important. Between an actual global pandemic, an election being delegitimized for widespread mail-in voting, nationwide racial tension and a climate crisis, the necessity of community support and trust is pretty much the bare minimum requirement to accurate reporting.
And sure, it’s easier than it’s ever been for us to stay up-to-date on national and international news. But someone needs to cover our city’s town halls. Someone needs to keep an eye on City Council. Someone needs to be able to drive to the Flathead to cover stories outside of the city. Someone needs to be able to accurately cover local protests with the trust of their community, something a paper can’t earn if it is out of touch with its readership.
Much like calling your elected officials and donating to organizations you believe in, you can make your voice heard with your local papers, too. That’s what helped lead the Missoulian to retract its Fielder endorsement. Write the Missoulian letters to the editor when you disagree with them. Write letters to us when you disagree with us, too.
Our Kaimin editorial board is made up of our staff of 10 editors, including the editor-in-chief and business manager. We decide on what each week’s editorial will be together, and choose who should be writing it. It’s our job to communicate with you. It’s our job to explain how we work, and why we do what we do. And without your trust and support and criticism, we’d be out of our jobs.
More Editorials from the Montana Kaimin Editorial Board:
We write our editorials on Mondays, two days before we print. On Monday, when the Missoula C…